Thursday, December 20, 2012
Our wishes for Christmas Day games
|In a rematch of last year's Finals, LeBron and the Heat will face Durant's Thunder on Christmas.|
After opening your Christmas gifts, turn on the television for a handful of NBA games. The fun starts with the Celtics vs. Nets (ESPN, 12 ET), followed by: Knicks vs. Lakers (ABC, 3 ET), Thunder vs. Heat (ABC, 5:30 ET), Rockets vs. Bulls (ESPN, 8 ET) and concludes with Nuggets vs. Clippers (ESPN, 10:30 ET).
Our crew weighs in on the action.
1. Celtics vs. Nets: What are you wishing for?
Henry Abbott, ESPN.com: Noon on Christmas Day, my perfect scenario involves a turkey in the oven, a glass of wine in my hand and an unsightly mashup of Christmas gifts (think tie, slippers, ski hat) on my person. That would all pair nicely with a Deron Williams versus Rajon Rondo battle of the point gods. If there aren't delightful and shocking passes, well, there's wine.
J.A. Adande, ESPN.com: A great point guard duel between Rajon Rondo and Deron Williams. I know Williams has been yearning for Jerry Sloan's structured offense back in Utah, but wouldn't it be fun if he just scrapped all sets and went at it with Rondo? Williams' numbers are down, but you never know when he might go off for something like the 38 he dropped on Jeremy Lin the second time around last season. Rondo, meanwhile is on track for career highs with 51 percent shooting and 12.5 assists per game, only they're not widely discussed because of the Celtics' sluggish start. How 'bout a 20-20 or a triple-double on Christmas to get folks talking?
Marc Stein, ESPN.com: Rooting against any press-row glimpses of reporters I know on the broadcast because I haven't had the privilege of visiting the Barclays Center yet and don't want to be overtaken by envy. Beyond that? I think we can all agree that some sort of offensive fire from Deron Williams is L-O-N-G overdue. He's shooting 39 percent from the floor in December and has to start looking at himself for solutions. I also boldly predict that we'll be paying close attention to any of Kris Humphries' interactions with Rajon Rondo and/or Kevin Garnett ... assuming Hump gets enough run to cross paths with them.
David Thorpe, ESPN Insider: Boston showing a pulse. A real heartbeat, a team that plays with passion on both ends and is connected. Absent the Celtics coming together, it's a two-horse race in the East. Adding that third team would make things so much better because there would be real drama as the season winds down and in the semifinals. Sometimes, just one win in a big game can get the ball rolling.
Michael Wallace, ESPN.com: Full strength. Or as close to it as these two typically banged-up teams can expect to be at this stage. That's especially the case with the Celtics, who truly believe they'll get back on track when Avery Bradley makes his long-awaited return from shoulder rehab.
2. Knicks vs. Lakers: What are you wishing for?
Abbott: The Steve Nash show. That's what I want for Christmas. I have written many times that Kobe Bryant is a ball hog in crunch time in a manner that hurts the Lakers, so people think I hate the Lakers. But it was always a crock. America's most visible team must be fun to watch! Please let Nash make the Lakers fun to watch again. Please.
Adande: For Steve Nash to play ... and play like Steve Nash. We really haven't seen anything resembling the two-time MVP since he donned a Lakers uniform. When the Lakers ran the Princeton offense, Nash looked out of his element, like a parent sitting through a Justin Bieber concert with his kid. When he returns he'll get his old offense back. I've been one of those who said Nash won't cure all the Lakers' ills. Well, at least he can make them more fun to watch. I want to see those Gretzky-like passes from under the hoop, the flat-footed scoop shots, the finger-licks before he dribbles upcourt. (Well, maybe not those. Those are kinda nasty.)
Stein: I am one of those people ridiculously excited to watch the out-of-shape guy. Stephen John Nash. Do you know what sort of toll this has taken on me to cover two months of NBA basketball with no Nash and no Dirk Nowitzki? (Jason Kidd's involvement, of course, means two of my all-time faves will be dueling.)
Thorpe: The Lakers doing all they can to run Knicks' shooters off the line and force them to deal with the dragon lurking inside. And a reason to believe that any of the L.A. role players will be worth 2 cents going forward, other than Jordan Hill. Ironically, getting Gasol back makes Hill less of a factor, which is a net negative for team "old and tired."
Wallace: The L.A. Excuse Machine to stop. The fact is, the Lakers are simply a disjointed and bad team right now. Depending on which side you take, it's either bad coaching, selfish Kobe, baby Pau or the incredibly shrinking Dwight who is at fault. Steve Nash's return from injury won't fix everything, but it'll at least remove one excuse from the equation.
3. Thunder vs. Heat: What are you wishing for?
Abbott: This is serious business right here. And I already got what I wished for: a Finals rematch that is not marred by the schedule. Both teams come in rested. The Heat will have had two days off, the Thunder will have had FOUR! So it'll be showtime, and I expect this show to be good.
Adande: For both teams to treat this like Game 6 of an NBA Finals that ended prematurely. The Heat have had trouble finding motivation for most of their games this season (it says something about their talent that they've auto-filled their way to a 16-6 record nonetheless). Inspiration shouldn't be an issue against the team that could snatch the crowns off their heads in June. Meanwhile, the Thunder players are smart enough to realize they can't truly avenge their Finals loss on Dec. 25. That doesn't mean they can't send a message, like a certain whistling character in "The Wire." OKC comin', yo.
Stein: I'm wishing for what I can't have. I'm wishing this game would have been in Oklahoma City so I could have gone to it. I'm a somewhat whiny long-distance driver -- 'cause I feel like the proverbial hummingbird trapped in a sandwich bag if I don't have the license to type -- but that three-hour ride to OKC for the right to see a Finals rematch would be a skate. The Heat won it all, however, so hosting the Christmas Day rematch is their right. With my luck it'll be a Bron versus KD throwdown for the ages.
Thorpe: OKC playing most of the game using all of its weapons (the new Serge Ibaka and the suddenly sweet-shooting Thabo Sefolosha, for starters), rather than just two of them, which we have seen here and there this season. A problem stemming from last season's 3-on-5 version. If Miami plays at a high level, another wish of mine, OKC likely needs most of its talent to perform to get the road win. To me, there is a huge likelihood that this is the Finals preview.
Wallace: A Game 6 atmosphere. It's difficult to expect an NBA Finals feel for a regular-season game in December. But it would be awesome to see these squads rekindle the competitive fire from their series last summer. LeBron and the Heat ran away to a five-game series win, but Kevin Durant and the Thunder want to prove they're ready to overcome Miami this time should they meet again.
4. Rockets vs. Bulls: What are you wishing for?
Abbott: Thunder versus Heat got me in a mood for contenders. And then it got me thinking about the Spurs. Is it too much to ask for the Rockets to be the Spurs, and for the Bulls to have Derrick Rose back? Failing that, I'll settle in for the Omer Asik/Joakim Noah Active Big Man Defender Reunion Show.
Adande: Linsanity. Yeah, I know it's the most overused sports word of 2012. (Actually, make that second-most overused word. "Tebow" beat it by 4 million Google hits.) That didn't make it any less fun when he brought a little taste of it back to the Garden last week. Unfortunately, those tastes have been more snacks than meals lately. He has scored in double digits for back-to-back games only a couple of times each month so far this season. Just keep in mind, he wasn't even on an NBA roster last Christmas; the Knicks signed him two days later. This year he'll be among the high-profile players on the league's showcase day. It's a wonderful life.
Stein: Forty-eight minutes each for Luol Deng and Joakim Noah to ramp up the scrutiny on the heavy PT load that Tom Thibodeau keeps shoveling on those two and give us some rare Christmas controversy. More of the Jeremy Lin/James Harden duo working in concert like we saw Monday night at Madison Square Garden wouldn't be bad, either.
Thorpe: The Bulls doing all they can to slow Harden, and how Lin & Co. react. Though the best sideshow is the monster matchup of former buddies and teammates Omer Asik and Joakim Noah, a case where both players benefited from the departure of one of them. These two are All-Star centers, with Noah beginning to look like he did at Florida -- dominating the paint and orchestrating the offense from the pinch post. He's the best passing center in basketball and one of its top defenders.
Wallace: Derrick Rose in uniform. I know it won't come true because Rose remains in rehab from major knee surgery. But this is a wish list, right? And I believe in miracles.
5. Nuggets vs. Clippers: What are you wishing for?
Abbott: High fliers take this cake. Blake Griffin, Kenneth Faried, DeAndre Jordan, JaVale McGee, Andre Iguodala, Eric Bledsoe ... I want dunks for dessert.
Adande: A little of this.
Some of that. Add this. Mix in this. You do realize this game will feature four of the six most prolific dunkers in the league, right? Lob City. Dunkopolis. Mile High.
Jamville. If you like dunks -- and really, who doesn't? -- this is the game to watch on Christmas.
Stein: Would love to see the Clips, while they're throwing down all those dunks, sporting some Buffalo Braves powder blue retro unis -- newly issued retro unis you could order online while watching -- to pay the ultimate tribute to my Braves after the Clips just tied their franchise record with 11 consecutive wins. I've got one Mitchell & Ness McADOO 11 in the closet, but I wouldn't mind another one to actually wear/expose to potential damage as opposed to being limited to the original that merely hangs in protective plastic in my collection at home. Hopefully I'll dig one up on my next trip to the city when I finally get to check out the Nets' home.
Thorpe: Dunks don't do much for me, but the rest of America should enjoy the "dunkingest" game of the day. And, wait for it ... JaVale McGee versus DeAndre Jordan. Yes, I said it. McGee in particular is making more plays that make me think "holy wow" than anyone else in the league north of South Beach. I'd love to see Lawson not channel his inner CP3 and instead try to light him up for 30 points. Denver rocks when Lawson looks to score.
Wallace: The Energy To Stay Up And Watch. The Clippers, no doubt, have become the greatest NBA show on the West Coast. After a full day of work, games, family fellowship, food and fun, there's enough stamina in the tank to take in CP3's thrill ride as he continues his strong candidacy for league MVP consideration.